Thoughts on international Yoga day


India has contributed a lot to the civilized world – and Yoga is definitely in “top 10” category . In a world where everyone seems to be stressed out , celebrating a day in honor of the ancient practice of yoga makes a lot of sense to me . Plus – it is a huge honor for India. 

I am not a practitioner of yoga – but my mom, my father in law and several others in my extended family , as well as several friends and colleagues are yoga practitioners . I would resist the temptation to call them yogis , given I grew up listening to tales of yogis who have moved on to a different plane of mind . These folks I know – to the extend I know – are kind of early in that journey , and do it today mostly in lieu of daily exercise . I definitely am planning to start learning yoga asap. 

I saw some folks resisting international yoga day by attaching religious reasons for that . This makes very little sense to me, who grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid just as much as Onam and Vishu . For those folks – I hope they are tolerant enough to view it as a way to honor their country and a good way to get some exercise . Diseases of body and mind don’t descriminate between Hindu and Muslim . 

It would be naive to think there is no religious aspect to BJP government pushing for yoga day . There are many hardliners in the ruling party who think India is for Hindus , and they may look at yoga as a Hindu tradition . But that is misguided . It’s hard to correct these people – so let them be .

That is all the good stuff . Now about some things that bother me about yoga day . 

Amongst the most pressing problems that need attention , yoga is not a top ten item for India . A good number of people cannot eat three meals a day in this country . Similarly the health care situation is pretty pathetic for a large section of society . Those are all things that need a lot of time and resources to fix . A hungry man would choose food over yoga every day of the week , how much ever it is advertised . 

Then there is the issue of pollution . Between the increase in number of cars , the felling of trees , the number of houses and offices that use air conditioning and so on – air pollution is significant in pretty much every big city in India . Practioners of yoga – especially those that do it outdoors – are going to deeply inhale highly polluted air . I have to wonder if there is any point to this exercise , including the spectacle of Guinness record winning crowd in Delhi doing it in public . 

Talking of pollution – water and food are also subjected to poisonous stuff to a great degree . In the last three weeks here on vacation , I saw three separate programs on local TV showing heavy use of chemicals on fruits and vegetables . Several people I know are now growing their own vegetables because they can’t trust the stuff they buy in open markets . What exactly is the point of doing yoga and then eating and drinking such polluted food and water ?

Hopefully there will be great planning and execution by the government to make India holistically healthy , and that this yoga day is just a good first step .

Open source Hana – some random thoughts 


Dennis Howlett penned his thoughts on open sourcing SAP Hana http://diginomica.com/2015/06/17/should-sap-open-source-hana/ that  led to a fairly good debate on Facebook , and I thought I will share some thoughts on the topic here on my blog

Hana is a great piece of software which is a full fledged database , and have some lightweight app server capabilities . While it could very well be a general purpose database – historically it’s been used mostly under SAP business suite and business warehouse , and some data mart type use cases . It’s a well crafted piece of software and of course I am a bit partial to it . So what about open sourcing it ? 

I was a big proponent of open sourcing Hana when it first came out . I no longer think it is a great idea . Here are six random reasons why 

1. By now , there are way too many open source databases optimized for many different things . No first mover advantage remains for sap 

2. These open source databases all have large community following . SAP has a very large (larger than most open source databases) and loyal community who need to be nurtured on to Hana . That is a much more pragmatic approach than getting say Hadoop developers to switch to Hana 

3. Hana is rather limited on drivers . If widespread adoption by community is needed , SAP will need to support drivers for many languages on Hana . I don’t see the need for that investment given the heavy focus on S4Hana for near future . River was not the right approach in my opinion – that is not how real life developers build apps . That is an academic view of the world . 

4. Developers need software they can play with quickly and decide if their use case is a good fit . The trial needs to be quick to install , learn and tweak . People are happy to pay for support and enterprise grade features . Don’t confuse between open source licensing and open source business model . SAP can keep Hana commercial and just focus on making Hana extremely developer friendly for unlimited trials to get to the same results

5. What is really different between an open source database company that employs all (or most) of its commiters and SAP ? In both cases the company controls product direction – with of course some input from company . This is not a valid reason for SAP to open source Hana in my opinion . Of course not all open source companies employ all their commiters – but many successful ones do exactly that . Essentially that negates the argument that no one has all answers to a problem . The better solution is in vendors working together to make interoperability work better – consistentcy in driver support , security , provisioning , HA/DR etc 

6. Hana is not the only game for SAP. For SAP business model – till cloud can pick up significantly in net new business , it makes more sense to have Hana as high ASP , lower volume as sales model . That is the opposite of typical open source subscription model by other database vendors . SAP already sells Hana as a subscription I think – but doing it at scale , at a comparable price point to say MongoDB , Cassandra etc is just too disruptive in my mind . They might get there at some point – and to do a subscription business , software doesn’t need to be open source licensed necessarily .

Incredibly Beautiful India


Over the last couple of weeks of vacation , I have made two fairly long road trips across South India. First I drove with my friend from Bangalore to Ooty and back . Next I drove with my family from Trivandrum to Rameswaram and back . 

The first thing I noticed was the quality of roads – they are quite good . Gone are the potholes I remember from childhood . There are long stretches of good quality highways which are well maintained . This is one area where Kerala could do a lot better .  The slowest stretch on my way back to Trivandrum was from Kerala border to my home in Vellayambalam . That is rather embarrassing . Most stretches were toll roads – and that is one thing Kerala could do better . It is high time to let go of the resistance to toll roads and couple it with a strong will to hold the toll collectors responsible for quality of roads .

The shade of blue that colors Bay of Bengal at Rameswaram was the most beautiful I have ever seen an ocean . And the drive back through coconut groves , organic salt farms , mountains with thousands of wind mills and so on was breath taking .

   
   

  
The two things that need attention along the scenic route are food and bathrooms . Actually the food is pretty tasty – there just aren’t enough signs on the road to direct you to the restaurants on the service roads . Bathrooms need urgent attention – there just aren’t enough of them along the highway and most are not kept clean . It’s high time we fixed that .

I was also pretty amazed that google maps proved to be totally accurate on these roads . They estimated time to drive almost to the minute and many a time , saved us from taking wrong turns . But I should add that big signs along the highway are a must have in these national highways . Highway signs are smaller than the street signs in most of western world today .

The trip to Ooty was the first time I stayed in Masinagudi , in the thick Neelgiris forests bordering Karnataka , Tamilnadu and Kerala . 

  
This land is home to 7000 wild elephants , as well as large populations of Tigers ,leopards etc.  I spotted maybe 500 deer , and a few wild boars . No elephants or leopards were sighted unfortunately despite hearing the warning cries from langurs early in the morning indicating that big cats are nearby. 

  
This picture was taken from a watch tower in our forest lodge . The bamboo trees form a thick canopy over trails that the tribals take to cross the forest . My friend warned me that it is also the place where lone tuskers take the most lives .

     

The lodge had two beautiful dogs – I suspect they are a mix of Great Danes and dogue de Bordeaux. They were quite friendly and partially filled the void of leaving my own three fur kids back in U.S. 

   

The road on Karnataka side of the forest is a lot wider and better maintained than the one on Tamil Nadu side . However , as I saw some idiots drive recklessly on the good roads , I started wondering whether it is such a good thing to make good roads in the forest .

I also saw a spectacular sight of four monkeys beautifully timing a jump through open windows of a moving car in front of us , and jumping back with a packet of cookies . It was even more funny to see the guy get out of car , chase the monkeys and take it back . I wonder if he actually ate those cookies after all

Ooty was great in terms of meeting old buddies and their beautiful dogs . 

   

  
The best part of driving to Ooty is negotiating the thirty six hair pin bends on the hills 

  
But it broke my heart to see tasteless construction making the sleepy old town a concrete jungle . I have been to Ooty several times – but this was the first time I remember sweating profusely there . It was hot – not the Ooty I knew growing up . I hope they rein in the development to responsible levels . Local government should also spend more attention to preserving historic buildings . It was sad to see the iconic old Spencer building near collapse . 
Just one foodie picture this time – in case you need one more reason to visit India . This is the traditional Kerala feast called Sadya , with thirty odd dishes spread across several courses . The fried “karimeen” is not part of traditional Sadya , but it’s my mom’s special dish 🙂

   
   

A day in TRIVANDRUM , the capital of god’s own country 


I was born and raised here – and lived here for 25 years before moving to US . I am in Trivandrum for a vacation – and loving every minute . This is the first time I have come on a vacation here without a laptop or tablet . And being unemployed , there are no work calls to attend to either . In short , it’s nothing but rest and relaxation – the type I haven’t had in as long as I remember .

The best way to start the day here is with a strong cup of coffee 

 
Today morning , I accompanied my mom to Palayam market to buy some vegetables , meat and fish . This is a place I have gone most weekends as a kid with her . The Connemara market was established by the King of Travancore about 200 years ago , and named after an erstwhile Governor of Madras Presidency. 

  
The market has not changed much in the last 40 years – except may be a couple of extra concrete structures where they sell fish now . It was fun to watch the vendors compete for my business – and the seller in me appreciated it a lot . 

  
The fish is caught daily and sold here . Prices are a lot higher than I remember from childhood . Inflation is alive and well . Just to compare – a pound of king fish is about $6 in Phoenix and it is $7 today in Trivandrum !

One thing I miss in U.S. Is the variety of bananas . There were at least 20 different kinds for me to choose from today . I just need the time to taste them all 

  

There was a butcher that my family has been buying mutton from for decades – from my grand father’s time . I was sad to hear the old man is no more , but the shop still carries his name . Of course I had to buy some . He slaughters 50 goats on a slow day apparently .

  

Chicken – well , you just choose the birds from a pen and pay . By the time you come back – they would have a packet ready for you, cut to spec . It doesn’t get any fresher than that – assuming you don’t get grossed out by seeing the process . As a kid I have slaughtered chicken many times , so this is not a problem for me . But I doubt my wife or daughter will eat the meat after seeing the process 🙂

 
On to veggies – it is a one stop shop . There isn’t a veritable you can’t find here . I was spoilt for choice . It was all organic when I lived here – but I am told that is not the case any more , and that there is heavy usage of pesticides . That was a bummer 

  

Palayam market interests me for another reason altogether . Facing the market is an ancient Ganapathi temple . I am not sure if there is another place in the world where this is true 

  

On one side of the temple is the oldest Mosque in Trivandrum , the Juma Masjid . It was built in the 1800s . 

  
On the opposite side of the road is the  beautiful St Joseph’s cathedral which is also from the 1800s , with its three bells imported from Belgium . Pope John Paul had conducted mass in this church when I was in high school . 

  
And sandwiched between the Mosque and the Church is the war memorial honoring the martyrs . Chandrasekaran Nair stadium seems all spruced up – I remember organizing the first Trivandrum kennel club dog show there , and watching India play Russia in soccer as a kid .

Despite vested interests trying their hardest to create a lack of trust between religions , Trivandrum has always lived in perfect harmony . Long may it continue .

On the way back, I passed by the old CSI church . Such a grand old building – probably older than the Palayam pally

  

It’s amazing that I never paused to enjoy the beauty of these buildings while I lived here . And now I can’t get enough of them . Definitely planning to venture out tomorrow and catch up the other parts of town . My resolve to spend my retirement in my hometown is all the more stronger today 🙂

Time to chill – with a mango milkshake , which amma made from fresh ripe mangos that a family friend sent over with a note that said “no pesticides” 🙂

  
It’s almost lunch time – wonder what my aunt is cooking for me .  More later – it’s a hard life 🙂  

Kerala has put the FUN in dysFUNctional engineering education . High time we fixed it


Kerala has 14 districts . It barely has any significant industry or agriculture any more. Outside IT and some government owned companies – there really isn’t much demand for engineers . Yet we have more than a hundred engineering colleges churning out thousands of engineering grads every year . How does this compute ?

I was born and raised in this system that put a premium on engineering education as a big accomplishment . My dad is an engineer too and the sole reason I chose mechanical engineering as my major was because my dad is a mechanical engineer . The big difference is that he is a really good engineer and I am terrible at mechanical engineering . For all intents and purposes – I should not have been a mechanical engineer . I should have studied computer science instead as that is where my talents were .  

 When my batch graduated – the top 5 students in my class got real mechanical engineering jobs . The rest of us struggled to find any job immediately . Some including me went and did our masters , some others found their calling in IT . Few others chose to start non engineering businesses . Only a few did anything relevant to engineering . And of those five top students – to the  best of my knowledge only one chose to remain in a pure engineering job . The other four moved to IT for better career prospects . 

That was in 1992 that I went to engineering college . 23 years later – nothing has changed . Plenty of mechanical engineers come out of colleges every year with supply exceeding demand by a factor of probably 100 or more . There is not any real counseling done to help students pick the right choices in college . Those that do counsel usually have no relevant experience themselves and hence lack credibility , even though their intentions are pure and noble.

It is high time supply and demand found an equilibrium in engineering education.

Quality and content of education needs a big revision – my dad and I learned more or less the same text books . The Automobile engineering I learned in college had no relation to the cars coming out into the market in the 90s. Sadly – that is still mostly the case in 2015 too . A good portion of engineering education is irrelevant or incomplete to be useful in actual work environments . I found it first hand in my first job when I could not read a complex engineering drawing of a machine quickly . Why ? Because the most complex drawing I ever did in college was of a piston or a valve . Students are not prepared for real life scenarios in engineering colleges – the onus is on first employers to teach them the basics . It is unbelievable that we send out engineers into the field without a formal apprenticeship . Will you go to a doctor who did not complete apprenticeship ?

Which brings me to teachers . When there are hundreds of new engineering colleges , how do you find teachers ? You essentially hire new college grads as teachers and let them teach subjects that they barely know themselves . It is a huge injustice to a few generations of engineering grads that they will get taught by incompetent and inexperienced teachers . Sure those teachers will gain experience over time – but the damage this practice created will not be undone for the students . Outside the top few colleges , I am not aware of teachers working closely with industry . So their chances of being exposed to latest developments and challenges in their field is minimal or non existent .

If vast majority of demand for engineers is in IT field , why can’t colleges have more IT options available ? Why continue to churn out mechanical and electrical engineers who then turn into programmers ? Why not just teach them what the market wants and needs ? By all means let’s have mechanical engineering seats available for kids who have the interest and aptitude for that . But please stop the factory model for engineering education for fields where demand is low.

There is an argument to be made that the rigor of engineering education prepares students to analyze problems better in later life . That is true and fair . However , there are other things that an engineer needs to succeed – like the ability to make a presentation , file a status report , run a team meeting , create a budget etc . Our engineering educations ignores this aspect completely and transfers the responsibility to employers to act as finishing schools . Innumerable career disasters have happened because colleges do not take care of anything more than theoretical aspects of pure engineering . 

While we learned how to use a lathe and milling machine , we never learned how to use a wrench or a screw driver to repair something . There is zero emphasis on maintenance in engineering education . And in real life , engineers spend most time in maintaining existing stuff than creating new stuff . Professors don’t know this or they don’t care – and probably because they rarely visit a real shop floor . 

It is time to hit the reset button . Incremental changes have happened and they are not sufficient to make Kerala competitive in the global economy . This needs serious disruptive thinking and execution . It needs people from several backgrounds to come together – ideally led by a combination of academics and industrial experts . Time is passing us by and if we don’t act now – it maybe too late to stop this man made disaster . Those of us who have been through the system and have seen its effects owe it to the next generation to help change the system .